November 26, 2008

Re-Defining Bowl Eligible

The term "bowl-eligible" is becoming a plague on the college football landscape, a term that's now synonymous with "mediocre" and "pedestrian." The influx of bowl games has watered down these holiday matchups to the point that a handful of "bowl-eligible" teams inevitably play with a bowl ineligible head coach as he's already been fired. Believe it or not, 34 bowl games now dot the map, which translates to 68 teams "earning" the right to another game. I was no math major, but if there's only 119 Division I schools, isn't there something inherently wrong with this system? Why should 57% of all programs play a bowl game? When is enough going to be enough?

So what does it truly mean to be "good enough for a bowl" these days? Different things to different entities. In the eyes of the bowls, it means your fans, presumptively, will travel and fill the stadium. And with game tickets come hotel reservations, dining and drinking in the locale du bowl. What "good enough for a bowl" doesn't mean anymore is having a team that earned the right to play one more game. Just because sponsors put up the money to pay for the right to host a game doesn't necessarily mean that it's good for the game. Who's on this committee that approves adding bowl games every year? 10 years ago, way back in 1999, the number of bowl games was a very desirable 23 games. For comparison's sake, at the conclusion of the '99 bowl slate, there were 9 schools with 7-5 records and 3 schools with 6-6 records; in 2007, we were left with 11 schools with 7-6 records and 4 schools with 6-7 records. The big difference is every "bowl-eligible" team in '99 entered with a winning record. Now, .500 is the targeted benchmark, with 1-2 of those wins against 1-AA teams. Is the NCAA that desperate to reward underachieving teams just so they can offer a pu-pu platter of games? Hopefully, one side-effect of this economic crisis will be sponsors pulling money out of the bowls and reducing the total number of games. Make a bowl invitation mean something for a program, not just showing up every Saturday to win every other week. Restore the pride of the bowl system while we still have it!

With this mind-boggling bowl expansion that includes any team with a pulse (read: not a losing record), Notre Dame secured their place on the menu of bowl offerings with a dynamic, heart-pounding victory over a fellow bowl-eligible team, the Naval Academy. Fitting that this win stamped their ticket to El Paso, or any other wayward destination giddy to host an apathetic Irish fanbase, because Navy is the only team with a winning record the Irish will have beat all season. (Yes, I'm already chalking up a lopsided loss to the Trojans this week. A win would be on par with J.C. multiplying loaves and fish.) You read that correctly. Notre Dame has beaten 6 teams this year, but only 1 has won 6 games. Talk about charting a course to mediocrity. Just who are the 5 schleps that the Irish were lucky to have on the schedule?

San Diego State: 2-10 (1-7 Mountain West) The Aztecs played within 25 points of their opponent in 5 games all season - their two wins, a 2-point loss to Cal Poly, a 4-point loss to Colorado State, and the 8-point loss at the hands of the Irish on opening weekend. Wow. What everyone wanted to chalk up to an offense shaking the cobwebs off turned out to be par for the course. I'll go on record now and say I'm very leery of Nevada leaving South Bend with a victory in next year's opener if Charlie is still on the sidelines.

Michigan: 3-9 (2-6 Big Ten) The Wolverines experienced, arguably, the worst season in the program's history. As satisfying as it is to beat Michigan, this win provided zero indication or hint of Irish success to come.

Purdue: 4-8 (2-6 Big Ten) The Joe Tiller Farewell Tour teased Irish fans with glimpses of what the offense was capable of producing. Purdue has posed as much threat as the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man in stopping our offense since Charlie showed up. Sadly, he can't line up against the Boilermakers every Saturday.

Stanford: 5-7 (4-5 Pac-10) 2 of the Cardinal wins were over the pillow-fighting doormats in Washington and another over San Jose St. So this is, for all intents and purposes, a 3-win caliber team, even if they do play with pluck and gumption and any other tough adjective you wish to throw Captain Comeback's way. This game foreshadowed the maddening trend of not putting teams away as the offense grew stagnant in the 4th quarter. It's become Charlie's calling card to think that a W at the end of the day is good enough. Newsflash: you're not in the NFL anymore! You haven't been for four years. Better teams NEED to beat the living daylights out of inferior teams. That's what good college programs do. These aren't professionals lining up against each other. Talent disparities exist across the board and it's the job of the coach to exploit those. The fact that Charlie doesn't seem to understand this reality is only one reason why he's not the man for the job.

Washington: 0-11 (0-8 Pac-10) The fact that we didn't score 50 points in this game still irks me. I don't understand how it's a good thing to toy with college kid's emotions, turning off their edge by not playing to score every possession. It's a mentality the team as a whole lacks, and that's the responsibility of the head coach. As it is, Tyrone "held" the Irish to Washington's 4th lowest point total on the season.

Total: 14-45

The "we beat who was on our schedule" line holds little merit when you barely beat some of them and can't win against a single team with any merit (Navy reached 6 wins with victories over Towson, Temple, and SMU. Their schedule rivals ND's in softness). Factor in the wretched losses to teams they should have beat and this season leaves a worse feeling in the pit of my stomach than 2007. There was too much talk of progress that didn't materialize. Too much inconsistency. Too many head-scratching moments with too little effort in the right direction.

Notre Dame should decline every bowl invitation they receive, as a matter of principle. Earn it on the field. That goes for the coaches and players alike. If you don't improve and get better during the season, you shouldn't get to "keep trying" for 3 more weeks just because your team technically reached a minimum level of victories. If Charlie wanted to procure another month of practice for his team, then they should have played the last 4 weeks with that in mind. They should have been hungry to get better as a team and keep moving forward, not fall ass backwards into a game that they clearly have not earned. Notre Dame preaches holding themselves to a different standard than the rest of the institutions in the NCAA. Why should bowl games be any different? If anyone on the team and coaching staff can explain with a straight face why they deserve to play a bowl game, I would love to hear that explanation. I'm afraid it doesn't exist.

1 comment:

Doug said...

I agree. We should not play in the bowl game. ND has thrown in the towel on this season. I think this team would be better off putting this season behind them and coming back with a new leadership group as soon as winter conditioning begins. The quicker our players put this season behind them, the better.